InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is launching a new top-tier membership category this month for its IHG Rewards Club loyalty program called “Spire Elite.”

Officially announced this morning, Spire Elite is the latest enhancement to the IHG Rewards Club, which has evolved significantly since April. It is designed to expand the loyalty program beyond a frequency-based points system to what IHG representatives are calling a loyalty brand experience with a clubby social aspect to be shared among like-minded frequent travelers.

We spoke with Lara Hernandez, VP of digital, loyalty & partner marketing Americas for IHG, last month at the James Beard House restaurant in Manhattan. IHG was hosting a private dinner for 100 of its most loyal guests, many of whom will move up into the Spire Elite category, as a way to show their appreciation to their best customers. The Beard dinner is the kind of reward experience that IHG is developing to create a more dynamic collection of incentives for Spire Elite members.

“Points are just table stakes to be competitive these days, but it’s really about experiences and moments that we can create with our members to meet them and learn about them and their travel needs,” says Hernandez. “For those really top tier members who stay with us the most, like those who will be here tonight, they’ve been members for many years across multiple brands, and events like this are an opportunity at the property level to give them an elevated experience and thank them for their business in a new way.”

Other similar private dining events with top chefs took place in Atlanta and Mexico City during the last month.

The new Spire Elite membership category, which now supplants the Platinum tier as the top level, is attained by earning 75,000 qualifying points or staying at IHG hotels for 75 qualifying nights over the course of a year. Members are given 100% extra bonus points on qualifying stays, and they can choose between receiving 25,000 points or upgrading a friend or family member to Platinum.

According to IHG, “The qualification requirements for all membership levels have been restructured to make it easier for members to be rewarded for their loyalty. Club members will need to earn just 10,000 qualifying points or stay for ten qualifying nights to be eligible for Gold membership. Gold members will need to earn 40,000 qualifying points or stay for 40 qualifying nights to reach Platinum membership.”

Speaking with Hernandez, we mentioned that many active travelers, especially among younger generations, have lost trust or interest in participating in loyalty programs. So is that an internal conversation at IHG that is informing some of this new strategy?

“Yes, there are travelers who don’t want to have to calculate points and keep an eye on that—it’s not even part of how they think about travel—because they want things now and that instant gratification of seeing a reward,” Hernandez said. “So we just launched our digital rewards program with rewards that they can get access to right away. Now you can download a song for a couple hundred points, for example, because people still may want to earn a loyalty currency but they’re not in it for the long haul. So we have a lot of other things for that mindset and that kind of member.”

For those instant shoppers, the new Digital Rewards section on the IHG Rewards Club website does provide a way for IHG guests to redeem points right after a one-night stay, but is it still enough to entice consumers ambivalent about loyalty programs? Potentially, maybe, if the user experience is super streamlined and engaging. The concept of hotels having their own customer engagement platforms revolving around digital song downloads, like companies such as Starbucks, is compelling.

IHG also now has a full Amazon-style retail section on the Reward Club website where members can redeem points for everything from a Canon EOS Rebel camera for 186,000 points to a Troy-Bilt leaf blower for 51,000 points (marked down from 59K).

And, IHG launched the IHG Rewards Club Auctions program in April where members can bid in eBay-style auctions for rewards ranging from Caribbean cruises to Fall Out Boy and Wiz Khalifa concert tickets.

“If you think about what we’re doing with the IHG Rewards Club, and moving it from being a frequency program to a true loyalty brand and that connection with people, we’re saying when you choose to stay with us and give us your information, we are going to interact with you in a more relevant way,” says Hernandez. “If you’re a member and you’re giving us your business, you have expectations that we know who you are and what you want, so that’s why we’re doing this.”

Greg Oates covers tourism and hospitality development.

Tags: ihg, loyalty
Photo Credit: IHG has restructured its entire IHG Rewards Club to make it more easy to join and understand. InterContinental Hotels Group